Preservation week: 5(plus) questions with Geoff Willard

April 28, 2016
Richenda Brim
Geoff Willard, Stanford Media Preservation Lab

For today’s Preservation Week blog post we move away from book and paper preservation to meet Geoff Willard from the Stanford Media Preservation Lab (SMPL). SMPL serves to preserve and enhance access to original sound and moving image collection materials held by Stanford University Libraries.  Operations focus on creating a high-quality copy of the original content in a digital format that is easily accessed by researchers and others, and that enables ongoing, long-term management of the content for future users.

For more information about Preservation Week including resources, quick tips, and free webinars visit the American Library Association’s Preservation Week site. 

Tell us about your work, Geoff.

I serve as the media lab’s flight controller - coordinating the movement of AV materials to and from the lab, ensuring objects are created in our digital repository, and shepherding those objects through the entire digital lifecycle to make sure they’re preserved. A good chunk of my time is also spent doing quality control on audio files.  

What is your favorite book/item to come across your bench in the past year?

The tapes from the Allen Ginsberg collection are always high on my list - in the past year, there was a recording Allen made of an orgy that was particularly memorable for the cast of characters involved. 

With so much change in preservation in the last two years, what has been fun and/or challenging?

Most challenging task has been keeping the machines running. I worry constantly about the limited amount of technicians capable of returning an old piece of gear to factory spec. At this particular moment we’re doing ok, but we lean fairly hard on a handful of people. Should they retire or unexpectedly give up the ghost, the struggle to maintain our level of quality would increase significantly.  

Has your work influenced your life outside of work?

To some degree, it has influenced my decision to stop collecting cassettes and records. The playback considerations for these two types of media, never mind the storage implications and the general burden of having lots of “stuff” to deal with, requires a level of effort I was no longer willing to put in on my time off from work. That said, I’ll still take a vinyl rip of an album over a CD or high-resolution download almost every time.

What parts of the library do you wish you knew more about?

Curatorial acquisitions - I’m curious how the curators go about doing what they do. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s a rather opaque process. How are collections pursued? How is collecting scope established and vetted against what’s pursued? How is value agreed upon between the curator and the donor/seller?

Why did you decide to go into this field?

Saving things from the dustbin of history has a tremendous appeal, especially for someone with a cultural history background. Being in a position where I would always be exposed to something new, regardless of how mundane it might be, also keeps that collector itch scratched.  

Do you have a favorite tool/operation/piece of equipment?

If we’re talking digitization related, probably my Grace m903 headphone amp. Non-digitization? My Lifespan under desk treadmill - ultra dorky, but I’m sold on the benefits.

What's something about your job we'd be surprised to learn?

eBay plays a more important role in my life now than it did before I took this job (and I say that as someone who once had a side business selling records on eBay!).

Can you recommend some books/websites/articles about your field?

The Cost of Inaction Calculator, written by AVPreserve, is something that every content owner with AV materials should look at. Anything that brings up the urgency in our line of work and creates champions out of those holding the purse strings gets a resounding thumbs up from me.

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